March 22, 2014 – We’re back in Baltimore for two weeks after five years of living in Costa Rica. We’re back in our old house, with most of our old things around us. And we’re saying hello to many friends and family members whom we haven’t seen in years. It’s different, this time in Baltimore. It isn’t home to us anymore. But it is the home of so many memories for us.
We came to sell our house and to deal with all of the stuff we’ve had stored in the basement for five years. To be honest, I was shocked at how much stuff was there. In my recollection, we had gotten rid of so much more when we were preparing to make the move to Costa Rica in 2009. But as I opened box after box, I found that they were filled with things we had accumulated that we no longer needed nor wanted.
A lot of things went straight into the trash: foodstuffs that we thought we’d be shipping soon after arriving in Costa Rica, toiletries that we had stocked up on that were now out-of-date, clothes that were worn out or stained after being packed for so long, books and magazines that we couldn’t even give away (doesn’t anybody read paper books anymore?) and all kinds of not-so-gently-used household stuff like dish drainers, trash cans, and half-full packages of things.
We settled on the house yesterday (March 21, 2014), but had negotiated five more days to finish cleaning out the house. We planned a two-day “Moving to Costa Rica Sale” and are now through the first day. It’s a funny feeling, to see all of the possessions you’ve accumulated in a lifetime laid out for all to see and pick through. Many things were priced at just a dollar or two and, I’ll admit, I was a little bothered by the many people who came and didn’t buy a thing. And I was a little more bothered by the people who came and wanted to give us 10% of the low prices we were already asking. But that’s yard sales, I guess. To the people who come, it’s just somebody else’s junk. To me, it’s my life, my memories.
Things that I didn’t even remember we still had, and that I hadn’t thought of in years, all of a sudden had new significance. “I can’t get rid of that dress. I wore it to a wedding the first time Paul met my family. And that bedspread, it covered the antique white wrought iron bed that I used when I was single and loved so much.” Paul keeps reminding me that it’s all stuff, and that we can’t take it with us when we die. It is stuff, but it seems to be alive with moments of my life, and of our lives together. I always tell people who are trying to downsize in preparation for moving out of the country, “If it makes you feel bad, or nothing at all, when you look at it, get rid of it. If it makes you feel good, and it brings back good memories, keep it.” I guess I wasn’t prepared to have to deal with so many good memories in such a short period of time.
It’s not even just the stuff. It’s this house that no longer belongs to us, where we’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our old bedroom. It’s the room where we would sleep on spring nights with our windows open and listen to the frogs croaking in the pond in our back yard. It’s the back yard where we’d sit on a swing every day when we got home from work, watching the fish, listening to the waterfall, and catching up on each other’s day. It’s the house that we bought together and moved into a couple of months before our wedding; where we put up a Christmas tree every year and lit fires in the fireplace. It’s where we had dinner parties and movie nights with good friends; and where everyone looked forward to our yearly 4th of July parties, followed by walking to the fireworks display at the elementary school just four blocks away and then vanilla ice cream with strawberries and blueberries from the bushes in our back yard. It’s the house that some of our friends called “the fairy tale house” because of its charm and warmth. I have to keep reminding myself that the warmth came from us, and that it follows us wherever we go.
I know I might sound sad, but I’m not, really. I’ve been preparing for this letting go. And I know that these things, big and small, are not really the repositories of my memories, they are just touchstones. I can choose to remember all of these experiences whenever I want, wherever I am. And I can choose to let the things go without letting the memories go.
April 1, 2014 – Today we got on a plane to return to our life in Costa Rica, five years to the day after we first moved there. It seems fitting, after all. It’s where we’ve made new friends and have created a rich and satisfying life for ourselves. I am eager to get back to the place that we now call “home,” bringing some of the reminders of our lives here in Baltimore with us, though leaving most behind. And that’s okay with me.
- Our Big Move – Part I
- Our Big Move – Part II
- Our Big Move – Part III
- Paul’s Monthly Tip to Live for Less in Costa Rica: Buy Just What You Need